By William Minto


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V.--THOMAS WATSON (1557?-1592?).

We have mentioned incidently the "Ekatompatia, or Passionate Century of Love," by Thomas Watson. Watson first appeared as an author in 1581, with a translation into Latin of the "Antigone" of Sophocles. The "Passionate Century" (that is, Hundred) was published in 1582. Three years after, he executed a Latin elegiac poem, entitled "Amyntas." He continued the practice of Latin verse alongside of English: in 1590 he published an "Eglogue upon the Death of Sir Francis Walsingham" in Latin and English, adopting in this case the title of "Meliboeus." In 1593, in which year he was mentioned as if then dead,[1] his last work was published--a collection of sixty sonnets, entitled "The Tears of Fancy, or Love Disdained."

Neither the "Century of Love" nor the "Tears of Fancy" belongs to a high order of poetry. The "Century" was avowedly an exercise of skill: the love-passion, he tells us in the Preface, was "but supposed." With this the critic has no quarrel: so far Watson differs from many of his poetical brethren, only in the perhaps superfluous candour of the avowal. The misfortune is that the supposition, the imaginative passion, is weak. There is no constructive vitality in his lines; the words and images seem brought together by a process of mechanical accumulation. The "Tears of Fancy" are decidedly superior to the "Love-passions," but here also there is a fatal lack of spontaneity and freshness: the superiority has every appearance of being due to the author's study of Spenser.

The "Passionate Century" is worth reading as a repertory of commonplace lover's hyperboles. There never was so sweet a lady, never so fond nor so distraught a lover. Hand, foot, lip, eye, brow, and golden locks are all incomparable. The ages never have produced, and never will produce, such another; Apelles could not have painted her, Praxiteles could not have sculptured her, Virgil and Homer could not have expressed her, and Tully would not have ventured to repeat the number of her gifts. She is superior to all the mythological paramours of Jove. The various goddesses have contributed their best endowments, mental and physical, to make her perfect. Her voice excels Arion's harp, Philomela's song, Apollo's lute; yea--

Music herself and all the Muses nine
For skill or voice their titles may resign.

The despair produced in the lover's heart by the disdain of such a paragon is in a corresponding ratio. Vesuvius is nothing to the fire that consumes his heart. The pains of hell would be a comparative relief. He suffers the combined tortures of Tantalus, Ixion, Tityus, and Sisyphus:--

If Tityus, wretched wight, beheld my pains,
He would confess his wounds to be but small
A vulture worse than his tears all my veins,
Yet never lets me die, nor live at all,
Would God a while I might possess his place,
To judge of both which were in better case.

The "Tears of Fancy," which, as we have said, are chiefly imitation gems, observe the same form as Daniel's. The two following quatrains, with their pretty anadiplosis, or doubling in one line upon the last words of the preceding, are an extreme example of the poet's imitation of Spenser. Cupid is the eager fugitive, bent on mischief:--
Then on the sudden fast away he fled,
He fled apace as from pursuing foe:
Ne ever looked he back, ne turned his head,
Until he came whereas he wrought my woe.
Tho' casting from his back his bended bow,
He quickly clad himself in strange disguise:
In strange disguise that no man might him know,
So coucht himself within my Lady's eyes.

The two following conceits are in his best manner, and derive a certain interest from their having apparently been imitated in Shakespeare's sonnets 46 and 47:--
My heart imposed this penance on mine eyes,
Eyes the first causers of my heart's lamenting:
That they should weep till love and fancy dies,
Fond love the last cause of my heart's repenting.
Mine eyes upon my heart inflict this pain,
Bold heart that dared to harbour thoughts of love!
That it shou]d love and purchase fell disdain,
A grievous penance, which my heart doth prove.
Mine eyes did weep as heart had then imposed,
My heart did pine as eyes had it constrained:
Eyes in their tears my paled face disclosed,
Heart in his sighs did show it was disdained.
So th' one did weep, th' other sigh'd, both grieved,
For both must live and love, both unrelieved.

My heart accused mine eyes and was offended,
Vowing the cause was in mine eyes' aspiring:
Mine eyes affirmed my heart might well amend it,
If he at first had banished love's desiring.
Heart said that love did enter at the eyes,
And from the eyes descended to the heart:
Eyes said that in the heart did sparks arise,
Which kindled flame that wrought the inward smart.
Heart said eyes' tears might soon have quench'd that flame,
Eyes said heart's sighs at first might love excite.
So heart the eyes, and eyes the heart did blame,
Whilst both did pine, for both the pain did feel.
Heart sighed and bled, eyes wept and gazed too much:
Yet must I gaze because I see none such.

These sonnets, with or without the following beginning of Watson's 22d Love-passion--

When wert thou born, sweet Love? who was thy sire?
When Flora first adorn'd Dame Tellus' lap,
Then sprung I forth with wanton Hot Desire.
Who was thy nurse, to feed thee first with pap?
Youth first with tender hand bound up my head,
Then said, with looks alone I should be fed--

may have suggested the song in the "Merchant of Venice," Act iii. 2, "Tell me, where is Fancy bred." [2]


[1] See the introduction to Mr Arber's reprint.

[2] A writer in the "Quarterly Review," No. 267, ascribes the suggestion of this song to a sonnet by Jacopo da Lentino. The sonnet is not known to have been printed before 1661, but the writer supposes Shakespeare to have seen it in MS and considers it a proof that Shakespeare could read Italian; if not that he had been in Italy! The coincidence is certainly striking, but the birthplace of Love or Fancy in the eyes was a commooplace. I have remarked several English poems of the time quite capable of having given the suggestion.

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